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The Three Truths of Change

I’m not really sure how fifteen years went by so quickly. That’s a lot of years spent listening to people in our communities, learning and becoming more familiar with how we humans and our institutions cope with the forces of change, much of it outside our control, and either resist or embrace it.

A number of people have asked me if I could pass along any important lessons I’ve learned during my time as Valley Vision’s CEO. My answer comes with a big smile and the words: yes, about a million lessons! Change work is often challenging but always humbling. If you are truly open to hearing from the people who are most directly affected, unfiltered, it is absolutely the best education you could ever hope for in your life. So, as space constraints will prevent passing on a million different lessons, I would like to tell you instead about three big patterns or “truths about change,” that I have uncovered over my many years.

The first is simply that change takes time. It’s a hard truth. When we see a celebrated announcement about a new downtown renaissance, a school system back on track, or a politician pat themselves on the back for a major win, it almost never happens overnight, nor by those actually celebrating. In truth and real practice, the conditions for change take many years, not days, and are built on the back of efforts from people who came before us. This heritage is important to recognize, and to respect.

One of my many mentors Jane Hagedorn noticed in her highly effective 30-year nonprofit career that major change efforts took seven years, and there’s much truth in it. That is, several years to get all the stakeholders on board, recognizing that there’s a real issue that deserves their attention and then building a warrant for change. Then, there are still a couple more years with data and hard-nosed meetings to get clear on how to address the issue effectively and to assemble the team and investments necessary to make new things happen. Then, finally, a few more years to pilot, test, fail, adjust, and make the change permanent. Change takes time, and we must embrace it rather than hide it, even though our hurry-up, fix-it-fast culture encourages otherwise. Plan for it. When things look bleak or seem to be taking “too long,” keep the faith; be unwavering. With dedication, time is on your side.

Second is the insight that regions of a million plus people each have distinct leadership models or approaches for how change happens in their communities, but that we do best when political, business, and civic sectors are working together. It’s important to recognize this. For me this truth was brought to light by the many study mission trips I have attended, organized by the Sacramento Metro Chamber and also by the El Dorado County and Folsom Chambers. On these multi-day learning exchanges leaders in Seattle, Austin, Charlotte, Vancouver, Brooklyn, Nashville, Portland, Atlanta, and Indianapolis told us their success stories. After six or seven trips, I came to recognize that leadership could spring from multiple sources to achieve the goals of a city or region.

  • Most often, leadership sprang from government when a dynamic mayor (or mayors) held sway over their entire region with a uniting vision and the power and respect to convene and direct regional action and investment.
  • Next most seen was a business-led leadership model, where a community with dense corporate headquarters had a few wise leaders who banded together to drive change because they understood the importance of community health to their overall bottom line. Leadership came from the private sector, working with elected officials, with an emphasis on measurable results and a clear return on investment.
  • Last was a philanthropic or nonprofit leadership model, where regional leadership emanated from a major foundation or nonprofit CEO or group of CEOs who helped set the regional agenda and the focus of change.

In my 30 years in the Capital Region and now 15 at Valley Vision, I have witnessed the source of leadership in the Capital Region shift from sector to sector and evolve over time, largely reflecting the leader and their skills and whether their vision was large and inclusive enough. Secondary factors have to do with whether our region is on an up or down cycle of the economy, and therefore the presenting challenges that must be confronted, but also the availability of leadership. The lesson I draw from this is that, without question we are at our best and accomplish the most good when political, business, and civic sectors are teamed up. This seems to be happening more and more, which is a good sign.

Third, there is a big new cadre of leaders in top positions across our public, private, and civic institutions in the region just in the past few years, right as our region is coming into its own. There’s always some degree of turn over, but in the last five years we’ve seen virtually a wholesale change of who’s in charge. At Valley Vision we counted more than 30 top positions that had changed hands from one long-serving leader to the next — core business groups, leaders of our top universities, as well as vital government institutions. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge walking out the door. But importantly, we have a big new set of leaders at the helm of our region and its institutions with fresh ideas and emboldened by fresh mandates for change. I am part of this outgoing class. I am leaving the CEO seat in order for the next leader to bring the energy and fresh ideas we need to make a more prosperous, just, and sustainable region, adding their contribution to the groundwork laid by others.

I leave Valley Vision deeply optimistic about our future, and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive through January 31st, 2020.

Departing After 15 Years

The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Dear friends,

As you may have heard, after 15 years at Valley Vision, I am handing the reins over to the next CEO. My last day will be January 31st. It’s been a true privilege to have led this organization for so many years, and to see it evolve and grow to prominence, like this region.

I believe any leader long in their position looks for signs of a “good exit.” Valley Vision today has an A-list board of directors, a top-flight staff team of 16, a strong and growing client base, money in reserves, and a long list of results – air that is getting cleaner, students who are better fed and taught, communities that are getting healthier, more mobile and connected, and people better prepared for jobs of the future. This work is never done, but it’s comforting to know Valley Vision is stronger and more resilient today than the organization I inherited as “employee number four.” I know Valley Vision’s next leader will do the same.

The work of Valley Vision is the work of inclusion and collaboration. It is about overcoming perceived and real differences between us. It is about imaginative problem solving that puts our people and our communities first. It is about bringing everyone together. This is not the stuff that lends itself to glittering news announcements. Far from it. It is instead mostly quiet, persistent, and very patient efforts carried out over many years by many people. Yet it is, without a doubt, the vital “connective tissue” that pulls us all together that makes all the rest possible.

I have the highest hopes for Valley Vision’s next leader. This organization and our region have come so far, and have so much promise ahead. As for me, I will return to the private sector February 1st as a consultant, supporting and advising business and government clients here in Sacramento and throughout California. It’s time for change. Time to build the new. My sincerest thanks to each of you for your advice, your support, and your friendship over the years. It has been a life-changing journey.

In gratitude,
Bill Mueller

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller Announces He Is Handing Over the Reins January 31

Arnold to Serve as Interim CEO while National Search is Conducted

SACRAMENTO (September 27, 2019) – Bill Mueller, the long-standing CEO of the civic leadership group Valley Vision based in Sacramento, announced that he will be leaving Valley Vision after Jan. 31, 2020, following 15 years of service. A CEO search will be conducted starting in October. Consultant Meg Arnold will serve as interim CEO starting February 1 until a permanent replacement is found.

“Bill has been a great leader for Valley Vision.  He took a young organization and helped transform it into a relevant force throughout our region and beyond,” said Scott Shapiro, Chairman of the Board and Managing Partner of Downey Brand, a leading area law firm.  “He has led the organization to have a big impact on people’s lives and it is because of his thoughtful work and the work of many others over the years that our community is poised for great things.”

“I am really proud of the work we’ve done together making our region more prosperous, just, and sustainable,” said Mueller, echoing the triple-bottom-line goal of Valley Vision. “Our community-building work is always a work in progress, but I feel Valley Vision and our partners have demonstrated now for a couple decades that when we come together as one community, especially when the pressure is on, we can accomplish amazing things.”

Asked about what he will do next, Mueller said he is launching a consulting business and is in active talks with potential partners about teaming up.

Valley Vision plays a vital role in the region as a trusted convener, independent research organization, and leadership network designed to solve complex economic, social and environmental issues that no single leader or group can address alone.  The 25-year-old organization has a CEO-level board of directors, 17 staff and consultants, and works closely with government, business, foundations, nonprofits, and community groups to achieve its nonprofit mission of making the Sacramento Region the most livable in the nation.

The Board is launching the CEO search process in the coming days and plans to hire a permanent replacement in the first half of 2020. Meg Arnold will serve in the Interim CEO role effective February 1st until the permanent replacement is named.

“These are big shoes to fill, but this is a strong organization under great volunteer leadership,” Arnold said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to assist Valley Vision until the next CEO is named early next year.”

Our Predictions for 2019

“Nothing we can do can change the past, but everything we do changes the future.” – Ashleigh Brilliant

In this final post of 2018, I wanted to write to you about some predictions we have for the coming year, and our hopes for you and our communities at the holidays.

Our regional economy will grow by another $5 billion next year. It’s been growing at that clip for the past four years, and despite global head winds, it’s likely to happen again, raising our total Regional GDP to about $130 billion annually. If you didn’t already know, we have one of the nation’s biggest economies – we are in the top 10% of all regional economies in the US today in terms of economic output.

While the regional economy will grow larger, inequity will get worse. Middle-wage jobs are more scarce these days, while jobs at the top and bottom of the scale and bottom are growing. If you have a good education and workplace skills, you’ll earn a good livable wage. If you are entry level, or lack the skills or training for the increasingly technical or digital jobs available, then service jobs will be your best (and maybe only) option. For most people, this needs to be the start of their careers, not the end of their economic fortunes. That’s why we at Valley Vision are so focused on helping students, employers, universities, workforce boards and schools prepare for this new future of work, creating a talent pipeline that includes everyone. Nearly one-third of our work directly relates to this purpose.

In 2019, a bunch of really important decisions affecting the lives of you and your family will be made. If you live in Sacramento, the people at city hall, with input from various communities, will decide the priorities for a long-term jobs strategy, how to spend millions from the Measure U tax increase, and how best to help under-represented school kids dealing with the potential bankruptcy facing the Sacramento City Unified School District. Regionally, big choices are coming for what type of housing, growth, and mobility investments we will make for the next generation. Being plugged into these decisions is important to your wellbeing. Valley Vision will be more than watching; we’ll be directly engaged with our region’s leadership, advocating for solutions that balance equity, economy, and environmental sustainability.

Harder to predict, but still inevitable, are the ways that coming shifts in mobility and new technologies will affect how we live, and the form and shape our communities will take. We are going to see more autonomous vehicles on our streets and universities’ campuses, new electric fleets, more bikes and scooters, and new applications that can help us get where we need to go easily and without a huge price tag.

In so many ways, the headquarters for the State of California is the likeliest place in the world to test the latest innovations that are transforming our buildings and streets, how we get our food, our sources of energy, and transportation. This is not only because California is setting the pace globally on these issues with new policies and technologies, but also because we have vast sections of our cities in the Capital Region that can be re-built – often from scratch – with the latest technologies and cutting-edge materials, as well as break-through designs and modern conveniences geared for the future.

For our part, Valley Vision is doing what we can to champion this region’s ability to serve as a “test bed” and incubator for new technologies and applications aimed at solving urban problems – as a fiscal sponsor for local governments, businesses, and utilities for new cutting-edge mobility enterprises; as a project manager driving changes in policy that focus on future needs; and as an independent researcher and catalyst.

2018 has been a formative year. Strong foundations have been laid and things feel more certain (or at least known). The region’s business, government, education, and community groups seem to be coming together, sharing effort, trusting each other more versus going it alone. New leaders are settling into their posts and getting things sorted out. More seasoned leaders in our neighborhoods, governments, and businesses are actively working with others to fulfill their promises. 2019 will put it all to the test as these decisions come up and the stakes rise. We are at a turning point.

Our wish for you? Participate: the voices of those whose lives are directly impacted need to be heard now more than ever in boardrooms and council chambers. Encourage: tell those who represent you that you expect them to work collaboratively with others, including people with whom they don’t instantly agree, because we are better together. Hold them to account for this. Remember, they work for you, not the other way around. Last, love always: love your family and your community. Be involved. This is most important and what no one can do but you. Throughout time, positive change has always begun here.

The future remains bright, if we make it together.

Happy holidays from the team at Valley Vision! To keep up with Valley Vision’s work to advance livability in the Sacramento region, subscribe to our Vantage Point email newsletter!

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Bill Mueller Honored with Distinguished Service Award

On September 27th, Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller accepted the Distinguished Service Award from Sacramento State. Distinguished Service Awards are given in recognition of professional achievements and community service. Honorees have achieved prominence in their chosen field and brought distinction to the University and/or their community through their accomplishments. Below you will find a transcript of his acceptance speech.

Thank you, Sac State Alumni Association and President Nelsen for this recognition. I also want to thank my dear friend and colleague Christine Ault for submitting my nomination.

My family is here. My sons’ Daniel and Brian, and my sisters’ Debbie, Susie and her husband Gary, and my kid sister Nancy.  My dear friend Fredrica is also here. My oldest son Nick is a priest in Boston and he and his wife Deena could not be here, but they are here in spirit. Thank you, all. You honor me by being here.

This award hits home. Not because of how it feels in this moment, but because this recognition is shared with friends, my family and my parents.

My parents are both gone now. My Dad died 16 years ago almost to the day. My Mom died of cancer in January. Her birthday was last Friday. I can still hear her, and feel her.

She and my dad were big believers in education. They knew it opened doors. To good jobs. To a better life. They encouraged it in their kids.

But my Mom in particular was always reading and always asking questions.  Education for her was not limited to the classroom. It was a lifelong commitment. She wanted to know. And both my mom and dad taught us kids, not just about the world, but how to be.

As children we were taught never to hate. We may dislike something or somebody, but never, ever hate. That it is not our differences that divide us, but instead the judgments we make about others that do. That 95% of all disagreements sprang from nothing more than missed expectations, poorly communicated, calling us to communicate better.

Our times tell us different. Our times say we should retreat to our tribes and keep to ourselves. That we should not engage people whose views and ideas don’t match our own — not because they are simply different than our view — but because we judge them to be wrong.

I can’t help but wonder what my mom and other moms would say about this. I think she’d  encourage us to grow up, not in a mean spirited way, but in a way that lets us know we aren’t living up to our best selves. She would encourage us to be less fearful and more hopeful. More faithful in things bigger than ourselves. To reach out, especially when it is hardest. To have heart that our better days are ahead, as they always have been. That education is our key, because it democratizes hope. This is what I hear from my mom every day.

I want to thank Sac State, and for my teachers like Joe Serna, who was teacher first and Sacramento Mayor second, for being that place of formation and inspiration for me, and for thousands more. You got us ready for this world, as our parents have, to serve in a way that unites us, and brings out our best selves.

Bill Mueller is Chief Executive of Valley Vision.